Seasonal Pantry: Shop the farmers market, not the list

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The Healdsburg Farmers Market opened last Saturday morning, with the sounding of its signature cowbell at 9 a.m. heralding not just the opening of the year’s inaugural market itself but also celebrating spring’s delicate harvest. Before long, summer crops will come tumbling in. For now, it is time to enjoy the season’s fleeting pleasures, including local asparagus, green garlic, garlic scapes, spring onions, fresh fava beans, delicate French breakfast radishes, early strawberries, rhubarb, and the year’s first cherries.

This market has a number of vendors who sell only here and discovering what they have is part of the joy of attending weekly.

The best way to explore a farmers market is without a shopping list. There are, of course, times when you are looking for something specific. But when you’re simply gathering foods for upcoming meals, you should decide what to cook either at the market or after you get home from the market, not before you go.

When you get into this way of doing things, the seasons start to speak to you in a manner they don’t when you have the sort of focused vision triggered by a shopping list.

If you’re new to shopping regularly at farmers markets and farm stands, there can be a bit of adjustment. You might, say, get potatoes, onions, cabbage, and garlic at the market, then swing by a grocery store because you think you need tomatoes, too, and maybe have a crazing for melon. But if you wait until these items are offered at your local market, everything will taste much better and you’ll end up eating a more diverse diet.

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You can use this recipe as a template for grilling a variety of spring foods, including asparagus, fava beans, small artichokes and more. The important thing is to have a hot fire and to lubricate whatever you are grilling with just a bit of olive oil. Don’t use a premium or ultra-premium olive oil for this step, as you are simply lubricating and assisting with the transfer of heat, not adding flavor. Condiment suggestions follow the main recipe. You’ll often see grilled scallions at taquerias and other Mexican restaurants, but they are easy to make at home and can be a side dish with almost anything. Sometimes, especially on a hot night, they make a great meal with nothing more than rice and more salsa alongside.

Grilled Scallions with Radish Salsa

Makes 4 to 6 servings

— Radish Salsa, recipe follows

2 bunches scallions, rinsed and trimmed

— Olive oil

— Kosher salt

Build a fire in an outdoor grill or set a grill or grill pan over high heat. While waiting for the fire or the grill to heat, make the salsa and set it aside.

Put the cleaned scallions on a baking sheet, drizzle with just a bit of olive oil, and toss the scallions to coat them. Season lightly with salt.

Set on the grill in a single layer and cook until they are softened and have begun to pick up some color. Use tongs to turn them over and grill until fully tender.

Transfer to a serving plate, spoon salsa over the scallions and enjoy right away.

Condiment suggestions: black olive tapenade or freshly made romesco sauce with grilled spring onions; simple garlic vinaigrette with grilled green garlic or garlic scapes; mustard vinaigrette or aioli with grilled asparagus; Maldon sea salt and little lemon wedges with grilled fava pods; garlic butter with grilled artichokes

Radish Salsa

Makes about 1 cup

8 medium radishes, trimmed and cut into very small dice

2 tablespoons minced red onion

1 small fresh serrano, seeded and minced

1 clove fresh (not cured) garlic, if available, minced

— Zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1 teaspoons chopped fresh Mexican oregano, if available (more cilantro, if not)

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more to taste

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste

Put the diced radishes, onion, serrano, garlic, if using, and lemon zest into a medium bowl. Add the cilantro and Mexican oregano, if available, and toss gently but thoroughly.

Season generously with kosher salt and several turns of black pepper, add the lemon juice and toss again.

Stir in the olive oil, cover, refrigerate for 30 minutes, taste, correct for salt and acid balance and enjoy.

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If you’ve never had strawberry shortcake with homemade shortcake and Crème fraîche instead of whipped cream, you are in for a real treat with this recipe. Be sure to use the best strawberries you can find; they must be picked ripe and enjoyed quickly for full flavor.

Strawberry Shortcake with Crème Fraiche

Makes 6 servings

6 cups (about 2 ½ pints) strawberries, preferably from a farmer’s market or farm stand, stems removed, rinsed

5 tablespoons sugar, plus more as needed

1/4 cup butter, plus more for the baking sheet, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup heavy cream, preferably local, plus 2 to 3 tablespoons, if needed

1 cup Crème fraîche, whipped for 2 to 3 minutes

Cut the strawberries in half lengthwise, put them in a medium bowl and toss them with 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and as long as four hours. After two hours, stir gently and taste. If the berries seem a little bland, add 1 tablespoon of sugar, stir and chill 2 hours more.

Meanwhile, make the shortcake. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and butter a baking sheet.

Put the flour, baking powder, salt and the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar into a mixing bowl and stir together with your pointer finger.

Make a well in the center and put the butter in the well; using a pastry cutter, combine the butter and flour, working from the center to the outside over and over until the mixture resembles small crumbs. Work quickly so that the butter remains somewhat cool.

Again, make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the cream. Use a finger to quickly and gently mix the flour and cream together to form a single lump of damp crumbs. If it seems really dry, sprinkle some of the remaining cream over it and turn gently a couple of times. Do not over mix.

Gently press the dough together to form a ball and set it on a well-floured surface. Knead very gently for 5 seconds, just until it comes together; gently pat into a 1/2-inch thick round. Cut into 6 equal portions and carefully transfer to the buttered baking sheet. Bake until very lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

To serve, carefully cut open each biscuit and set on a serving plate, setting the top half off to the side.

Gently pour some of strawberry juices into a small bowl and set aside. Divide the strawberries among the servings, piling the berries on the bottom half of the biscuit. Use all the berries and let some fall onto the plates.

Top each portion with some of the whipped crème fraiche and then drizzle the reserved strawberry juices over it. Set the top half of the biscuit off center so that it rests on the bottom half and the berries but does not cover them. Enjoy right away.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date. Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com

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